Creationists Target Publisher in Texas Adoption

Update: TFN has obtained a copy of letter addressed to the state board signed by five members of the official biology review panels. The letter challenges the alleged “errors” identified in the report presented to the board late yesterday, concluding:

“Holt McDougal’s supplement, as well as the publisher’s response to the reviewers, accurately describes the current state of the science, satisfies the TEKS, and matches the other supplements already approved by the board on Thursday.”

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The Texas State Board of Education’s public hearing and debate over proposed new science instructional materials today went well — until a big bump at the end. Most of the instructional materials the education commissioner has recommended for adoption received preliminary approval from the state board. The board has scheduled a final vote tomorrow.

But toward the end of the debate this afternoon, Texas Education Agency staff revealed that a review team had identified eight objections to content in the Biology instructional materials submitted for approval by publisher Holt McDougal. Board members were told that Holt McDougal is arguing that the objections are based on bad science.

Indeed, the objections appear to be largely the work of a young-earth creationist — David Shormann — on the team that reviewed the company’s materials. Here is a review Shormann wrote about the Holt McDougal materials and shared with his review team. We obtained this document last week through a Public Information Act request to TEA.

You can see that many of Shormann’s objections in his review have been repeated — almost word for word — in this document TEA distributed to state board members this afternoon. The TEA document lists the eight objections and includes Holt’s rationale for not making the changes Shormann demands. Because of the very abbreviated and opaque review process the state board established for this science adoption, it appears that few people outside TEA and Holt McDougal even knew about these objections. Indeed, the ability of the public to get information about the proposed instructional materials and reviews has been very limited.

In any case, the state board’s creationist members obviously smell blood. In fact, they successfully opposed even permitting a representative from Holt McDougal to address the board and explain why the demanded changes represent bad science. So the board will have to sort through this issue tomorrow.

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6 Comments

  1. Posted July 22, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Anthropological research is indeed a good example for thinking about science. In trying to determine when, how, and why someone died when there are no witnesses, for example, various natural sciences, human behavioral/social sciences, and other disciplines can contribute to providing the “story” behind the person’s death, much as various disciplines would contribute to determining whether a particular stone was intentionally crafted to be a tool or was shaped by impersonal natural forces. We might never be able to say with much confidence what happened, but we can infer the best available explanation.

    “Inference to the best explanation” can be scientific if: 1) it involves comparing two independent probabilities, and 2) if both probability calculations themselves have some basis. For example, in trying to decide whether some object, event, pattern, or complexity was designed or not, I would want to compare the probability that it could have arisen by design with the probability that it could have arisen without design. This is frequently done in cases of suspected designs by mortal beings.

    For example, what’s the probability, given what we know about human beings from a particular time and place, that this is an intentionally shaped stone tool? What’s the probability, given what we know about wind and rain and geology, that it is a naturally weathered rock instead?

    Similarly, one would compare probabilities to infer whether other things came through design. Murder, or accidental death? Communication from an extraterrestrial alien, or natural electromagnetic radiation? Genetically-engineered bacterium, or naturally-evolved microbe?

    By the way, to some ID advocates, “inference to the best explanation” does not require two probability calculations, only one. The only required probability calculation models the without-design path. And if that calculated probability seems too low, then by default the ID explanation is assumed to be best. I honestly don’t know how one can place so much weight on that one probability calculation, especially if it entails several highly arbitrary and speculative assumptions. But I do understand why the other probability calculation (which models the with-design path) is usually not done by ID advocates: unlike the sciences where the designer is identified at least to some category (whether animal, human, or extraterrestrial) , ID does not identify the designer even in that most fundamental, broad sense. The characteristics of the designer are kept completely unconstrained by most ID advocates. The designer need not be subject even to the natural laws of the universe (whereas even extraterrestrial aliens, I assume, would be!).

    Such lack of constraint is not intrinsically wrong. In fact, it’s an important part of both philosophy and theology. But science itself is limited by its methodology to agents that obey the natural laws of the universe.

  2. gensci
    Posted July 22, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Great point, Dr. Austerberry! Now for some added fun, see if you can find the place in the Holt curriculum where they describe anthropological research using intelligent design principles. I had no idea what I should do when we saw that, so we (my review team and I) just left it in. When you find it, let me know what you think.

  3. Posted July 22, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Dear gensci:

    According to the document “Publisher Response to Errors Reported by Biology Panel” which the TEA distributed to SBOE members, regarding the item from Section 7G ( “Complexity of Cell” ) of the biology materials submitted by Holt McDougal, the “error” identified by the review panel in which you participated was that “The red blood cell is referred to as a simple eukaryotic cell … but it has no nucleus … Therefore, it cannot be referred to as a eukaryotic cell.” The panel must have been thinking specifically of mammals. In birds, for example, a mature red blood cell still has a nucleus and other organelles. And of course, as Holt McDougal noted in their response, even the mammalian red blood cells are eukaryotic. As mammalian red blood cells mature, though they lose their nuclei and other membranous organelles, they retain other eukaryotic hallmarks such as eukaryotic cytoskeletal elements, eukaryotic ribosomes and other components of translation (protein synthesis), etc.

    If you’d like more information on red blood cell maturation in mammals, there is a recent open-access review in the literature focusing on the loss of mitochondria that I recommend:
    http://www.landesbioscience.com/journals/cc/article/11603/

    Holt McDougal also responded very well to each of the other review panel-identified “errors” from sections on “Applying Darwin’s Ideas,” “Comparing Hominoid Skulls,” and “Similarities in Macromolecules”. I certainly hope the TEA Commissioner is provided accurate information so he too can respond appropriately to the alleged “errors.” If the Commissioner were to force Holt McDougal to make the panel-recommended changes, then real errors would be inserted into the materials!

    C. Austerberry, Ph.D.
    Nebraska Religious Coalition for Science Education

  4. gensci
    Posted July 22, 2011 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    I want science taught in Texas public schools, not religious or philosophical ideas that are outside the boundaries of testable, repeatable, science. Fortunately, I was able to get some changes through that make Texas biology curricula a little less philosophical and a little more focused on 21st century science. One curriculum I reviewed removed (on my review team’s request) over 100 references to God, gods, and intelligent design. Can you believe that?! 100 references, in a biology curriculum! In spite of their good effort though, they did not make the approved list.

  5. Piedmont
    Posted July 22, 2011 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    gensci,

    TFN is not using Kathy Miller as a Subject Matter Expert (SME) on science, biology, or anything else. Real SMEs are pressing the SBOE to only include real science in the classroom.

    TFN and Kathy Miller are pressing the SBOE to listen to and follow the recommendation of the real SMEs instead of creationists and people pushing an ideological agenda.

    So gensci, do you want science and science only taught in a science class, or do you want other peoples religious bias, beliefs, and ideology to creep, either overtly or disguised, into the science class room?

    It should be obvious to anyone that forcing publishers to include false statements about evolution in textbooks is a clear intent by this overtly creationist board to discredit evolution for religious purposes. It opens up the state to a lawsuit.

  6. gensci
    Posted July 22, 2011 at 1:44 am | Permalink

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